We're headed to the U.S. tomorrow to see my family in Georgia and for my good friend's wedding in Florida. It's not the longest trip from Berlin to Atlanta, but with at least one layover and a definite seven-hour stretch over the Atlantic it can still be exhausting. What is it about airplanes (and airports!) that is so exhausting?
We've done this trip about a million times. With all that experience going back and forth between the U.S. and Europe, I've learned a few things about traveling comfortably, minimizing jet lag and staying your awesome healthy self, even after hours spent 40,000 feet above Earth.
Here is a list of important things I've learned after doing it all the wrong way.
1. Pack light (meaning your carry-on) - the last thing you want to do after checking your baggage, going through security and walking ages to find your gate is struggle with your hand-luggage once you board the aircraft. Trust me, I've done it all the wrong ways: with an overweight rolly suitcase that I can barely lift to the overhead bins, to the massive backpack that I just know will fit under the seat in front of me (bc who needs leg room?). Don't do these things. Pack lightly, chances are you won't write in your journal, work on your computer or read through four novels on your flight, no matter how motivated you are. After all, they do show free newly released movies!
Now I travel with one book, one large bottle of water and my iPhone (for podcasts or music) - all stowed in a normal sized bag that actually does fit under the seat in front of me.
2. Get comfortable (the right way). Skip the travel pillow all together - I'm still not sure why they exist. You're already sitting in an uncomfortable upright position, why you'd want to put something behind your neck to further upright you is beyond me. I have zero positive experiences with travel pillows. Instead I like to wear a big scarf that I can bunch up or wrap around my head for comfort.
Don't cross your legs. This might sound weird but circulation is problematic when you're jammed into a tiny seat and crossing your legs can worsen the situation and make them fall asleep. It's also better for your back and hips if you stay in a neutral position.
3. Dress appropriately - you guys, once I was crazy enough to think that wearing a maxi dress (!) on a 14-hour journey was a good idea. It might have been the most uncomfortable I've ever been. I spent the whole flight fighting the scrunch and jumble of my dress and getting caught up on the seatbelt. Don't do this. Wear comfortable and sensible clothes for your next long flight. Now I opt for comfortable jeans/pants with a loose top and sweater. Layers are important bc you can go from burning up to being frigid cold in 2 seconds flat, and well, it's nice to have options.
Don't wear contacts. The air is recycled during flights and is dry - like desert dry. This is bad for your lenses and can result in irritated, itchy eyes. If you must forgo actual glasses, be sure to carry eye drops.
4. Plan to freshen up - depending on which airline you fly, you might get a small toiletry kit with things like earplugs, an eye mask and a travel toothbrush. A lot of time and money have gone into researching flights and what makes passengers comfortable. The toothbrush made the list for a reason. Nothing is worse than having the aftertaste of your chicken curry with 5+ hours until your destination. Go brush your teeth.
I also pack facial wipes which help me "get ready" for sleep - similar to how I'd wind down at home. It's also nice to use these shortly before landing to freshen up and feel awake.
5. Skip the booze and coffee, drink water instead. I know, I know. This can be a toughie when the cabin fills with that wonderful coffee-bean aroma or better yet, when your flight attendant asks if you'd like free wine - you'd be crazy to say no, right? Wrong. It's proven that flying dehydrates you. Even though the free, seemingly unlimited cups of Sauvignon Blanc are tempting, they only dehydrate you further. Plus, once the warm fuzzy wine feeling has dissipated, you're likely left with a headache and slight hangover feeling. This is because alcohol affects your body differently at different altitudes.
Stay healthy and feeling good by drinking water. I always get a large bottle after clearing security that I can carry onto the plane. It saves you from having to annoy the flight attendants for little cups throughout the flight.
6. Move around - stretch when you can and get up from time to time. I probably get up 4-5 times on a 7-hour flight. Walking around the cabin, or even just standing (where there is space) near the lavatories, can help with circulation and keep your body feeling good.
Those are my tips for staying healthy and traveling like a boss. Have I missed something? Do you have travel rituals that you swear by? Let me know in the comments below.